There are many YA Shot lists, but the List of Doom is our invitations-plan, which is not so much a list as a horrifying flowchart that we agonise over for ridiculous numbers of hours. It’s a lot of hard work, as you might expect, but also a major source of stress, teeth-gnashing and hair-rending.
Like most of the lovely people in Children’s publishing, we don’t like saying no – we hate not inviting people who we know would like to come – but we simply can’t invite everyone. What we’d like to tell everyone, invited or not, is that the calculations about who gets invited and who doesn’t aren’t simple and that we really care about the people behind the decisions. If you’re not invited, it doesn’t mean we don’t like you. It doesn’t mean we don’t rate your work. It doesn’t mean you won’t be invited in future (though of course it also doesn’t entitle you to be invited in future). The ONLY thing it means is that you’re not the very best fit for the programme for the particular year in question.
And it won’t necessarily be at all obvious why not, so here’s a list of just some of the things we have to think about in relation to every invitation and the programme as a whole.
- Number of invites versus re-invites.
- Debuts versus authors who’ve got more than one book behind them, plus authors with a small backlist versus authors with a big backlist.
- We try to focus on authors with books out in the relevant year but we also try to include some published authors who don’t have something new out.
- People we (the YA Shot Team) know versus people we’ve never met versus people we didn’t even hear of until we researched the relevant year’s programme.
- Geographical distribution: we want to make sure that we invite people from all over the UK mainland and that we don’t ignore Ireland, but we also need to think about the cost implications of our author group as a whole.
- It’s also important to have enough people who live relatively close by so that we can fill the earlier and later programme slots without our authors being exhausted from travel and without us having a huge hotel bill.
- Representing a range of genres and different perspectives within genres.
- Panel make-up: representing different takes on key topics and themes, considering personality fit between authors, ensuring there is at least one author on each potential panel who’ll be a good chair, etc…
- Representing a range of different writing approaches.
- Considering which authors are/will be brilliant at workshops.
- Making sure we’ve invited authors from a range of big and small publishers and that we’ve considered publishers who’ve come to us and those we’ve not yet worked with.
- Considering how supportive publishers/imprints are: when publishers don’t give as much support, the YA Shot Team has to fill the gap with unpaid work, so it’s a pretty important consideration. For the record, if you’re a proactive, supportive publisher who’d like to work with us, we’re always very happy to hear that and it does factor into our decisions: we’re a charity-to-be not a business – help is literally our bread and butter. We are always happy to put new names on our list of authors under consideration; however, we will never guarantee an invite. [NB: YA Shot is currently only working with traditionally published authors. We are not presently extending invitations to self-published (including authors published by boutique publishing companies they part-own) or e-published-only authors.]
- Location of authors in terms of ease of donation to on-going LSPs.
- Diversity of authors, characters and books. We never start by tickboxing different diversity labels, but we always check our plans to ensure that they are diverse and that we haven’t unintentionally started from a biased position. Key to this is our research: we create a huge list of authors under consideration, using a wide range of sources and purposefully making sure we’re seeking out books that might otherwise fall afoul of systematic and institutional discrimination. When we know we’ve cast our net wide, there is no reason we won’t have a beautifully diverse pool of authors to pick from and it should naturally follow that we’ll create a diverse programme without having to think about diversity labels in a disrespectful, tickboxing way – and so far that has been the case. But should we ever find this approach doesn’t work out as it should, our solution will be to broaden our research and then try again, not to ‘check people’s labels’ so we can ‘add missing ingredients’. We want diversity rooted in equality and we certainly won’t get that by treating anyone’s ‘parts’ as more important than their or anyone else’s ‘whole’. With 60-70 authors in any given year some identities will be somewhat under-represented vis-a-vis current statistics about the UK population as a whole, and some will be somewhat over-represented, and some we won’t know about. But we do – and always will – spend a serious amount of time reviewing our programme to make sure it is diverse.
All that said, YA Shot doesn’t yet have the invitation ‘power’ to get whoever we want. We can have a great plan – and a good backup plan – but we can’t control whether people say yes. And sometimes there are patterns in the Yeses and the Nos that make it very difficult to fulfil all of our aims. We can only do our best and keep coming up with plans in-line with our ethos.
Anyway, the bottom line is this… if you’re not invited in a given year, please don’t think it’s personal. It’s not. There are so many things we have to consider and sometimes, for reasons that have nothing to do with you or the quality of your writing, you’re just not the best fit for a programme of events. The YA Shot Team knows exactly how hard it is to accept that, and how disappointing it is not to be included, but try not to see it as rejection because it’s really not – it’s not about you at all. Planning an event like YA Shot is about juggling a huge number of moving parts. We don’t have time (and we certainly don’t have the inclination) to make it personal.
So please don’t feel bad if this isn’t your year. And please, if you like what we’re about, support us irrespective of your own interests: YA Shot is author-run and author-led, but it’s *about* libraries and disadvantaged young people. That’s where our focus is when we build our programme.